Relationship Building in Small Business

Our advisor Eva Acton analyses different business interactions and the importance of having a solid relationship with all your stakeholders. Eva has extensive sales and small business development experience. 

Relationship Building is a facet of small business that cannot be underestimated. It over-arches every aspect of business interaction with:

In this article I elaborate on the hows and whys of relationship building and where it relates to today’s environment and I hope you find some useful information here.

1.     Your Customers

How & Why do you build a relationship with your customers? “They’re already buying so they’ll buy again!” is not a viable strategy when your marketplace is competitive. Customers will return if they feel engaged, invested, appreciated by your business.

We used an E-Mail marketing strategy to keep ourselves in front of our customers. We collected E-mail address at point of sale and explained it was to keep them informed of discounts and offers and activities. In my experience 80-90% of people are happy to provide their address when asked and the reason explained. We always reminded people, that we would not bombard them with mail, and they would always have the option to unsubscribe.

Armed with this database of clients you can build relationships using a variety of strategies.

·        Loyalty rewards,

·        Competitions,

·        Alerts to upcoming events (people loved our Mother’s Day reminders)

·        Introduce them to your other platforms.

·        Ask for testimonials (it feels good to give back)

·        Hints and tips to maximise the customer experience with your product

Remember you do not always need to be selling to a current client, but you do need to keep a presence on their radar. If you are regularly informing people of engaging content, then you can include sale offers too but try to keep a good ratio of product information and product promotion 80/20 rule. Our Emails would typically contain 4 pieces of information, one informative and perhaps 2-3 engaging images of product and calls to action.

2.     Your Potential Customers

Building a relationship with your potential customers is slightly more difficult. With the advent of Social Media, it is easier, and brands are building “Communities” around themselves who are advocates of the brand. Members of the community may not yet buyers, but they will be.

So how do know the customer specifically if they have not bought your product? and more importantly how do you build a relationship with them? Brands build communities by creating personas from details of their current clients and potential clients and then targeting that persona with their advertising where that “type” of buyer would be most engaged.

In our case our wedding market was a big part of our business. This is the persona we used

  • Demographic: Female, Age range 30-40, Price Conscious, Digital savvy, High reliance on Opinion leaders
  •  Motivations: Demand originality, Rely on Reputation / Word of Mouth, Demand good customer Service
  • Digital Channels: Instagram, Facebook, Wedding supplier sites
  • Offline: Wedding magazines, Hotel Wedding Fairs and Wedding Exhibitions
  •  Message: We will create a Wow on your big day and over-deliver on our promises.

Even though we could not “know” our potential clients our past clients and knowing our product was a great place to start. Knowing this, we could then focus on what content to target these clients with. This would involve some or all the following interactions.

  • Sharing videos of past events
  • Sharing testimonials
  • Free consultations
  • Trial / demo examples
  • Posting photos of behind the scenes preparation
  • Discounted offers
  • Invitations to Wedding Open day / evening

The relationship building involved bringing them along a journey with us, so it was easy for them to decide to choose us. If your interactions resonate with your potential client, you are building a relationship of trust with them.

For larger and more complex sales, a relationship building process could be ongoing for months or years. This can involve identifying your key personnel in the client organisation e.g.

  • The Buyer / Payer
  • The Decider / Final Approver
  • The Technical / Detail Person
  • The User
  • The Influencer

Building relationships with some or all of these is critical to success in larger sales. Your offering and interactions with each of these must resonate with their requirements in order for them to start to trust your product and brand.

3.     Your Staff

In earlier articles I mentioned about relationships with staff. It can be complex. If you are lucky, you will have no problems in this area. The best way to avoid issues is to build trusting relationships with staff. In my experience this can be achieved in lots of different ways.

  • Always be prepared to do the job you are asking someone else to do
  • Understand your business well, so your requests to staff are unambiguous
  • Utilise staffs’ specific strengths, do not be threatened by them
  • Have regular meetings with staff and regular one to ones
  • Communicate any changes and discuss with staff
  • Always err on the generous side of payments / bonuses.
  • Encourage and facilitate learning and training

4.     Your Stakeholders

By these I mean, your suppliers, your advertisers, your landlord etc. All these parties have a stake in the success of your business. They want you to succeed, that’s a given, but the level of cooperation and understanding they have can often be down to the relationship you have with them.

I found that keeping them in the loop about matters related to the business can be beneficial. If you have a problem, start discussions with your stakeholder from a place of mutual problem solving as opposed a problem that one party must solve. In our case for example, we had a very inadequate leaky old shed for storage. We highlighted that this limited our growth capacity and we agreed that if the landlord provided a new storage area, we would furnish, electric and plumb it. It was a win win and added to the value of the premises for the landlord.

If I make a mistake, I like to face it head on, accept responsibility, and try deal with it. Your suppliers will sometimes make mistakes / get things wrong. Provided it is not a regular occurrence (in which case change suppliers!) then there must be a level of understanding. This relationship of mutual understanding is so important for times when the pressure is on, times when finances may be tough, times when you may need them to pull out all the stops for you! Pay it forward.

When dealing with Supplier Websites, I found the ones I got the best results from were those I had the best relationship with. They need to build relationships with their clients too, so as much as possible try to take their calls, everyone is busy! They may have advice for you on better use of your budget on their platform or some limited promotional offer etc. Cold calls I’m afraid never got any traction in my business though.

5.     Your Network

I have a previous article on networking which I recommend you read but this is more about your neighbouring network. Often your business will be surrounded by other business and having a good relationship with them can be mutually beneficial. For example, a drainage problem in a communal drain always manifested first in our backyard. To get it resolved it required all the business to invest a small amount of money to get an initial fix and then a small amt for ongoing maintenance. Having good relationships with the businesses enabled us to persuade most of them to contribute to get the issue sorted to the benefit of all.

Source: Relationship Building in small business